The Meaning of Baptism (Plus: Location Change!)

Note that this Sunday Kidd Springs Rec Center is closed for some maintenance, so we are relocating for the week.  Fred and Ashley have graciously offered their home, 410 E. 5th Street on the South side of Lake Cliff Park, for our Sunday service.  Next week, we will return to Kidd Springs.

I have a terrible memory, but I remember being baptized.  Or at least I have constructed a memory from the scraps that remain.  As Baptists, you would think baptism would be pretty important.  After “being saved” we went through classes to teach us the meaning of it all and we were assured that baptism meant a great deal.  However, as Baptists, it was all merely symbolic, an outward sign of an inward transformation.  It doesn’t really do anything.  In any case, it turned out to be one of those things whose significance quickly diminishes under the particulars of its execution.

As an outward sign, it was primarily for the onlookers.  Since that time I have heard many a parent express their joy that their child was getting baptized.  I doubt the kid’s experience has changed much at all: when to enter the water; where to stand; how to hold your hands; don’t look at the congregation, don’t wave, and don’t say a word or so help me!  As a result, I don’t remember it as much of a milestone; nothing much changed for me that day.

As pastor of this post-modern, quasi-Baptist church, I wonder if I’ll ever be on the other side, the one doing the dipping.  So many people at Church in the Cliff have already been baptized, either as infants or as newborn believers later in life.  Since we’re not big on “saving” people in the sense of having them walk down the aisle to make a declaration, I fear that baptism is lost to us as a meaningful enterprise.  But I hope not.

Baptism is potentially invested with so much meaning.  It is our way of talking about the mythology of water: cleansing, transformation, memory, death, and birth.  As such, it is simultaneously inter-religious and specifically Christian.  Muslims practice ritual ablutions, wudu.  Hindus bathe in the Ganges to wash away sin and prepare them for moksha, release from the cycle of life and death.  And for Christians, it is interpreted by Jesus and John the Baptizer in the River Jordan.  In baptism, like Christ, we descend into the grave and rise again, a new creature in a new world.  We die to the old self, the self of ego and sin, and we are born anew, ready to try it all over again.  I hope we don’t lose that.  Maybe we should be baptized every day.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Fred and Ashley’s, 410 E. 5th Street as we talk about the baptism of Jesus and what it might mean to us.

Grace and Peace,

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